The Gentle Mind

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and hypnosis for GCSE exam stress

This can be an emotional time.

Everyone - it seems - is more sorted than you.

There’s always someone in your group who boasts about how little revision they’ve done.

There’s always someone in your group who boasts about how much revision they’ve done.

It can be the first time in your life you’re facing pressure like an adult does.

Ok, so let’s be clear. We all deal with stress at some point in our lives, but not all stress is bad stress. Stress in moderation can make you more aware of your surroundings, and help keep you focused and enable you to get more work completed.

But it’s when things get out of hand and help’s needed.

Stress and anxiety - understanding what you’re feeling

The words can be used as if they’re interchangeable. They’re not.

Stress is your response to a threat, challenge, or psychological barrier.

Anxiety is the result of persistent worry and fears about a situation. This can cause intense feelings of fear which can result in panic attacks.

Recognising stress

The physical effects. It can make your heart beat faster and cause sweating. It can be hard to breathe. The production of hormones may increase. The tenseness in the muscles may increase and a burst of energy experienced. Essentially the body is preparing itself for a fight or flight situation.

Psychological effects. Mood swings; irritability; resentment; angry outbursts. Feelings of being unable to cope; feelings of powerlessness; low self-esteem; low self-worth. You feel isolated and don’t want to socialise.

Anxiety. This follows ongoing stress that you don’t nip in the bud. Symptoms can be depression, panic attacks, a lack of interest in activities and experiencing intense unhappiness.

Lowering GCSE exam stress - what can be done? Here are some easy wins

1. Plan your time
Have hourly and daily targets. And stick to them. You’re setting your mind at ease knowing that you’ve allocated enough time to cover all the topics that may come up in the exam.

2. Prepare
As hard as you might try, you can’t cram it all into a few days. Take the pressure off yourself. You’ll feel less stressed if you start early and are more prepared for the exam.

3. Lose the distractions
Turn off your phone. even put it in a different room. Keep away from the TV or Xbox and avoid getting side-tracked on the net. These will all steal your precious time.

4. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling
More of this later. This is where someone like me comes in.

5. Take a break
Get up and stretch your legs, and take in some fresh air. Revision breaks can be as long or short as you need. For example, you might find revising for 30 minutes and taking a break for five minutes works for you.

6. Eat healthily
This is all about balance. Make sure you’re eating enough of the good foods and not too many of the bad ones. Also, drinking plenty of water will keep you feeling refreshed. Not too many carbs so you feel sleepy.

7. Reward yourself
It’s important to remember that revision doesn’t mean you have to totally stop doing the things you enjoy. You’re not a Trappist monk. Making some time to relax during your day - it can help to make your revision sessions more productive.

8. Get enough sleep
This is important in the run-up to your exams but especially the night before the exam. Getting enough sleep will make sure you’re at your best on the day of the exam.

9. Take regular exercise
Exercise is a great way to combat stress. Exercise and other physical activities produce endorphins – chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. These encourage a better sleep pattern.

10. Stay positive
A little bit of self-belief goes a long way.
With the right frame of mind and a positive attitude, you’ll achieve more than you thought possible. Enjoy the process: filling in the missing gaps and reassuringly reminding yourself of what you know. This gives doubt absolutely no room for doubt.

11. Breathe. Just breathe
This is one of the great stress busters because you can do it anywhere and not draw attention to yourself. Find somewhere to just sit quietly and concentrate on your breathing. Breathe in for the count of four. Hold your breath for the count of four, then slowly release your breath for the count of four. Repeat this five times. Note how your breathing and heart rate have slowed down and you feel less stressed.

12. Visualise
Visualisation works well when you need to unwind. Choose a scene that you enjoy such as the beach. You can also download some background music or sounds that will enable you to sit comfortably and relax for 10-15 minutes. Almost as good as a power nap.

13. Engage in active problem solving
When you are devising your revision timetable you are actually problem solving. Problem-solving diverts your attention as you are switching tasks - in effect is a mental break from revision. Try Sudoku or even a limited time on a game like Candy Crush (careful, don’t get too involved with the game - use it as an incentive to complete your study task).

14. Break everything down into bite-sized pieces
Break large tasks down into smaller more manageable tasks, so you can get a sense of achievement.

15. Music? No music?
Some people study better when they have no background noise to distract them, or they may study better when they are listening to their favourite music. Know what works for you.

16. Careful with your phone
Ideally, do not use your phone; tablet, or computer for at least 90 minutes before going to bed. Instead pick out some relaxing music that soothes you to sleep. Several apps can provide soothing music of your choice.

Exam day - here’s your plan

Get up a little earlier than usual. Allow yourself time to prepare for the day mentally. Although you got everything ready the night before, odd things tend to go missing, so you need to give yourself some ‘just in case’ time.

Give yourself a motivational talk. Imagine success. Don’t worry about what you think you don’t know, be positive and think about what you do know.

Have breakfast. Even if you don’t usually have breakfast, eat something that is rich in protein and makes sure that you are hydrated as fluids, in particular, water helps reduce stress.

Arrive in plenty of time. Preferably a little early, so you do not have to rush or stress about the time. Feel, calm and confident, and ready to do your best.

How can I - and Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist - help with GCSEs?

This is building on point 4 above.

I’m a Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist. It’s a talking therapy that can help you manage your exam stress by changing the way you think and behave.

Working together we’ll break things down into smaller parts so everything doesn’t feel overwhelming.

This way it’s easier to change your negative patterns to improve the way you feel.

In effect, what we’re doing is looking for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis.

What happens during your Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions?

Ideally I like to see you once a week.

We’ll work together to break down your problems into their separate parts, such as your thoughts, physical feelings, and actions.

So you and I can then analyse these areas to work out if they’re unrealistic or unhelpful and to determine the effect they have on each other and on you.

Then you and I work out how to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.

Now, over to you. It’s what you do/practice between our sessions in your daily life – your brain re-training – that determines how quickly and effectively you change for the better in your everyday life.

And what exactly will we agree you do between sessions?

It could be as simple as a daily thought diary (how you’re thinking, feeling, acting, and what are the triggers), or going for a run – seriously, the difference is powerful. And hypnosis.

Hypnosis is a great way to relax, see things in a different light, reduce negatives and even help you enjoy the process of revision.

All you need to make CBT work

Commitment. Believe in the process. It’s also what I’m here to help you with. Just like a coach with an athlete.

Consistency. Come every week. Let your learnings build week after week. Attendance is in itself a good habit you’re forming.

Confrontation. Face your emotions You may experience initial periods where you’re anxious or emotionally uncomfortable. Don’t worry. I’ll help you. The sooner you start the sooner you’re out the other side.

Who am I to talk about CBT?

I’m James Thomas. I’ve used Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and hypnosis to help with:

  • 11-plus entry
  • GCSEs
  • A-levels
  • Undergraduates
  • Studying for a Masters, or a Doctorate
  • Oxbridge entry exams.

And I never stop learning. All my Continuous Professional Development involves studying at The Royal Society Of Medicine.

I cover all of Lincolnshire with my rooms in Louth and Lincoln.

You can get in touch with me at or call 07787563099.

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